Sunday, November 23, 2014

Help your child to learn

If your child is in school, then the most important objective of yours should be to Maximise his/her learning outputs. For this one needs a Continuous learning plan, based on the child's background of his abilities.

This sounds simple. But there are many hurdles to cross. One is the confusion between teaching and  learning. Second is the blackbox of  'earning?'. Let us try to decode learning bit by bit.

Open the blackbox of learning

Learning helps the child to understand 'something' and use it to achieve his personal goals. In other words, it changes him in some ways. To help you understand learning, it is useful to know that Learning occurs at five levels:

1. Learning of content ( what )
2. Learning 'why' of the content ( relevance, context, purpose)
3. Learning of how to use the content ( how to use counting to give money)
4. Learning of behaviour ( habits)
5. Learning of beliefs and mindsets

These five levels are inter-dependent and inter-related. But understanding them separately helps you understand and correct the child's mistakes that occur in learning. Lower Level learning ( say level 1 of learning content) takes much lesser time than higher learning levels, say learning a new belief. But higher level learning hastens the learning of 'lower level'. So sometimes, you have to spend time in 'teaching' higher level learning even though it takes longer time.

Learning has four characteristics:

1. Using multiple levels of learning consolidates learning faster

For instance, we often marvel at the 3 year old's ability to remember and recognise 'car names', or 'a for apple' or '1 to 10' numbers. At this age, the child is learning 'content' and 'replaying' it again and again. This is level 1. This is just 'using memory'. There is another way to consolidate learning. For instance, if one uses different 'senses' to connect with a word 'car', memory becomes deeper. Recollection is easier.

But if the child moves to 'level 2' when he understands more about cars. For instance, when he understands why a car is called 'Jeep', and another called 'taxi', it helps the child understand the finer distinctions of 'car', because the purpose of each car is different. Now he understands car a bit more. Earlier, in level 1 he is only using memory to 'remember' car. Now he 'understands' the meaning of car a bit, and therefore put this in 'working memory'. His learning consolidates as he can use this 'data' of car.

The more levels a child uses in learning, better the consolidation happens. For instance, let us say she has learnt counting numbers. If she uses it to count chocolates, which is both level 2 and level 3, learning consolidates better. If he learns to count money while taking it from shopkeeper, it improves even further.

2. Learning 'how' deepens learning very quickly

This is level 3. While learning radio magnetic waves from the books helps, Learning is deep when the student builds a FM radio transmitter. Learning ' the principles of L:ight' from books is helpful even with experiments, but it is very deep when the student builds a camera. Learning 'programming' helps, but learning is multifaceted when the student uses it to program 'robot'.

The first two levels, even though understood at a conceptual level, can be consolidated well if the student uses the 'how to use the concept' in a real object.

3. Learning of appropriate behaviour helps learning

Learning also helps if appropriate behaviour - habit - is accompanied while learning. ( This is level 4). For instance, habit of keeping things in order helps in learning , because it helps the child to take a step at a time and reach the final step ( sense of order).

The most important habit that helps learning of content is the habit to sit and work patiently. This also includes the habit of managing the distractions. Emotional distractions are the most difficult to manage for the child where parents can contribute the most. Without adopting this habit, as the child grows, learning stops abruptly.

Infact because our schools do very little to 'help' the child to increase his attention span, most of the students suffer from very poor attention span. For such a distracted child, the only way to increase attention span is to use the child's internal motivation. For instance, parents can use the child's motivation of learning Tabla or drive a bicycle to increase his attention span.

4. Adopting learning-friendly beliefs is very important for learning 

Learning is never sequential. Learning involves making lot of mistakes and learning from them. But, if your child has a belief that 'Performance matters" then he tends to do activities, or study subjects, where he 'performs well'. He does not take challenging activities where he is likely to fail. Carol Dweck calls this performance mindset. On the other hand, when the child has a belief that 'he can always improve himself', he keeps on doing activities for becoming better at them. This is improvement mindset.

Carol Dweck has done lot of research on these two mindsets ( beliefs) and how they impact learning. If your child has 'performance mindset' and has a fear of performing, then it is important to change his mindset. Because, if not today, his learning will get hampered.


Because learning occurs at five levels, one has to be mindful of the level of learning one is trying to achieve. Most of the schools work at the level 1 and 2. Some schools have some activities at level 3. These schools call themselves practical learning schools, experimental learning schools, or even Project learning schools. Very few schools work at level 4/5 and expect the parents to contribute. Parents can do a lot at level 4 and 5 to help their child 'hasten' their learning later even though they fall 'behind' in class. Unfortunately, like schools, very few parents know how to help child learn new habits or new beliefs. Their only method is to instruct, admonish or 'blackmail' children which never works. 


Sanjiv Bhamre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sanjiv Bhamre said...

Here is more data to show how empathy is so helpful for learning.( level 4)